When it becomes all about the checklist – just some thoughts I’m contemplating…

A few weeks ago my son said something that stopped me in my tracks.

I was in the middle of introducing a new task he would be working on as part of his Nature Studies and encouraging him to think about what he could write as a narration.

He stopped me and asked:

“What is this for?”

“What do you mean?” I responded, a bit confused.

What is this for?” he repeated.  “Like, what do I get to check off my list when I’m done this?”

I chuckled and stammered.  Truth is, this task wasn’t actually on his list for individual work and it suddenly dawned on me.  My heart sank to my toes.

So that’s what has become the focus.  What do I get to check off once I’m done?  Because if I can’t check anything off my list – forget it.  There’s no point in doing it.


This is not exactly what I dreamt my son would be saying at this stage of our homeschool journey (going into grade 6).  This homeschool moment isn’t exactly brought to you by the vision I had of raising up self-motivated, self-learners.  Nope.  This kid just wants to check the list and get outta here.  And I’m a huge part of why he feels that way.


But I also have to acknowledge, this is not always the case.

Today, I watched the same child motivate himself to completely repair a Super Soaker on his own accord.  He assembled the tools, even taking the initiative to ask neighbors if he could borrow something he didn’t have.  He took it apart, problem solved, fixed the issue and put it all back together again.  It took time, focus, energy, thinking skills, and – well, there was no checklist anywhere and he certainly didn’t check off any boxes.

But he did learn.

And felt pretty good about his accomplishment when that water gun worked again.


He will read piles of books simply because he wants to read and learn.  He is intelligent, well spoken, creative, funny, motivated to tackle challenges in so many different ways.  Yet, stick a paper and pencil in front of him and he’s suddenly overcome with focus on that checklist.

All of a sudden, the thinking becomes: How much do I HAVE to do before I can check the box and throw the book back in the bin?

This post doesn’t come with answers.

I so wish I had the answers.  I wish I could say I’ve come up with the miraculous way to make your homeschool day NOT about the checklist, but I don’t.

Even as gentle, Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers who spend most of our time reading wonderful books and enjoying the liberal arts together – the checklist can plague us.  Especially when it comes to the individual stuff the kids do… reading, copywork, dictation, spelling, math, grammar, etc.  Check, check, check, check.  Get me outta here, check.

And I know I’m not alone in this struggle.  This fight between having a list to follow and then being trapped and controlled by that list.  Checklists are a HUGE part of homeschool culture.  They are everywhere.  Gosh, I even wrote an entire post about how we are implementing – yep, you guessed it – CHECKLISTS.

Man, I make no sense, eh?  *chuckle*

But this is a very real struggle for us homeschool Moms – I mean, how do we stay on task, have a plan, accomplish things,  even HAVE a checklist, and yet – not ‘do work’ to simply ‘do it’ because we need to check it off by 3pm?

How do we avoid the trap of losing our love for learning and replacing it with busy work just so we can feel like we really accomplished something because – well – we checked off a whole lot of boxes…?

And is it even possible to move forward academically and not have to just check off a single thing?  (Am I starting to sound like an Unschooler?  Oh my gosh… )  Or at least, if we are checking off those boxes – that it is about so much more than just ‘getting it done’.

But really, on the other hand – don’t we all have things we ‘have to do’ because, well, we just do?  Isn’t this true for ‘school’ work too?  Or is it?!

Am I dreaming unrealistic, lofty dreams to think my children could have the sort of education where learning takes place outside of a checkbox system where they are working only to get through the list?

I mean, really… am I just way out to lunch here?

Because I don’t want a lazy education for them.  I want a rich, full, challenging education.  And sometimes (or most of the time) that takes me pushing them in many areas they don’t naturally *want* to approach.  But, what if there was a way to tackle those ‘subjects’ in a way that sparked their natural desire to learn?  In a way that took us outside the ‘have to’ and into the ‘want to’.

My mind is full of these kinds of thoughts and questions these days as I contemplate, reflect, pray, and plan this month.

This is my prayer to The Father tonight and this year:

Lord, show me how to make our homeschool about truly embracing and enjoying the journey of learning and expressing what we learn in creative and interesting ways.  Help our children to grow in their passion for self-education and help me to trust them in the journey.  Fill our children, by your Spirit, with a desire to know You and a desire to grow in wisdom and understanding. Show me how to light a spark in each of their precious hearts and how to work together with their talents and abilities to achieve their full potential in their own unique ways…

More on this in upcoming posts… I hope to tackle the topic of ‘busy work’ and also write about my thoughts on how Notebooking just might be a big part of the answer to how we can fight the ‘just get it done’ mentality some of our kids struggle with…

Much love.


  • michelle

    My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. He needs a checklist to stay focused and on task, and Malachi is the same way. I think it helps him to know "this is what needs done and each check mark gets me closer to the finish line." The finish line is the end of the race and the end is the aim or purpose of our race, right? So, the list is encouraging him on. But, I'll be *very* interested if you find another way! ♥

    • Cassandra

      I hear ya… and I'm the same way too. I think my struggle is when the things ON the list get done with laziness, a rushed attitude… just to 'get them done'. Then, things I envisioned being enriching become nothing more than busywork with very little real learning happening… So, my checklist for my child becomes just something to race through and the end result is a race finished with as minimal effort as possible to just get to that 'finish line'. What I'm really wanting is a race run because the desire is there to run it – despite the finish line… it would be about the journey… ? I know, I'm dreaming – right…?

    • michelle

      It's a good habit to be disciplined in that area (finishing the things in life that we just have to do but don't enjoy), but I do understand – we want our kids to enjoy the journey.

      But sometimes we are called to trudge. I myself struggle with some basic disciplines and the "dailyness" of life. Have you seen the book, Love the Journey by Marcia Sommerville? (Link to my review). She has a chapter called, "When Trudging is Called For" and she says the key to trudging – or the key to steadfast perseverance – is hope. We can envision for him the goal of the exercise, encourage him about how well he's doing, (hopefully) commend him for his perseverance with cheerfulness, and show compassion even as you require diligence. And remind him that "for the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11).

      You might enjoy the book. She has a lot of practical advice. 🙂

    • Cassandra

      Thank you for this, Michelle… I definitely agree with your words here, and actually, I do own that book and you have encouraged me to pick it up and read that chapter tomorrow… THANK YOU. This post was never written from an 'I know what I'm talking about' perspective… it was more… here's what's rolling around in my mind… so it is really helpful to have the loving advice of trusted mentors/friends! (hugs)

    • michelle

      Of course (gentle smiles)… I was just thinking along with you. 🙂 I hope that's okay! A couple years ago, I reviewed a book called The Joyful Homeschooler and it really challenged me at the time. The author has a PhD in education and she unschools. One of the verses in her book is "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." (Ecc 12:12). She says in chapter nine: "Trust God to show you what to do and where to find the materials that you need when they are really needed. Trust yourself and your children. Trust the Holy Spirit to to motivate and direct their efforts. Teach less and pray more…. " I'd really love to apply this. Hugs and blessings to you in your homeschool, Cass. ♥

    • Cassandra

      Thanks Michelle… 🙂 I actually started reading the chapter on trudging yesterday. 😉 I agree – teach less, pray more sounds revolutionary, eh? Thank you for your kind words and for inspiring me further… blessings!

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